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Anne Arundel’s ‘Animal Whisperer’ Takes All Comers

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ALLISON BOURG
The Capital

MILLERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — Oh, the calls she gets.

An alleged drug dealer’s pet gator. A bullfrog in a storm drain. A house filled with dozens of cats.

It’s days like those when Anne Arundel Animal Control Officer Krystal Ackerson’s previous job working at the Baltimore Zoo with exotic animals comes in handy. Ackerson, 30, said she has to adjust quickly to whatever comes her way whether it’s furry, slimy or scaly.

“You have to be a chameleon in this job,” the Pasadena resident said. “It’s a lot of trial and error.”

Last fall, county police arrested a Jessup man they said had gang ties after seizing thousands of dollars in drugs — and an alligator from his home. Some officers might have been afraid of the gator and its sharp-toothed leer, but not Ackerson.

She even posed for a photograph with it and sent it to her mother, Vesta Davis of Pasadena, who was much more frightened.

“She’s living her dream, working with animals and doing what she’s doing,” Davis said.

While many of her calls — there could be anywhere from two calls to 10 or more a day — focus on domestic animals, she does get some odd requests.

There was the bullfrog that got trapped in a storm drain. The residents who called to report it confused the sounds it made with a dog’s bark.

“They were insisting there was a dog in the drain,” said Ackerson, who removed the frog. “You think you’ve seen it all, and then something else surprises you.”

While those cases are fun to talk about, Ackerson said her most rewarding experiences are about animal advocacy. The canine lover recalls picking up an abandoned, emaciated Rottweiler, which officers nursed back to health. It was eventually adopted.

Another time, Ackerson said, a woman took in more than 30 cats and couldn’t take care of them. Her intentions were good, Ackerson said, but she took on more than she could handle.

“We try to work with people as much as we can,” she said.

Davis said her daughter was an animal lover from childhood. Even the toys she asked for were animal-themed: My Little Ponies, toy pet shops.

After she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 7, her parents bought her Dalmatians, which she named Oreo and Cookies. The dogs were part of a larger menagerie that included cats, guinea pigs, gerbils, birds and rabbits.

When she later got a job at PetSmart, she brought home more animals, including the field mice that got into the bags of pet food.

“She just loves animals, and they seem to sense it,” Davis said.

Her friend Laurie Inglis, who has known Ackerson since they were freshmen at Old Mill High School, said she seems to know something about every kind of critter.

Inglis, of Pasadena, adopted a Doberman from Ackerson. The dog was abused and was skittish around people. Ackerson showed Inglis how to train him and gain his trust using treats.

“She’s like an animal whisperer,” Inglis said. “She would drop everything to go and help an animal.”

Choosing a favorite animal is easy for Ackerson. She has loved horses since she was a young girl, and asked for one every year growing up. One problem — Ackerson is actually allergic to their hair.

So she got a horse tattoo on her right calf instead.

Benadryl is helpful, too, her mom added.

Ackerson was named Animal Control’s officer of the year in 2012. Field Operations Supervisor Crystal Dowd nominated her for the award.

Ackerson inspected more commercial establishments, animal groomers and pet shops to make sure they are in compliance with county guidelines than any other officer last year. She also leads her department with the number of calls handled for resident concerns.

During the first eight months of 2012, Dowd wrote, Ackerson gave up more than 700 hours of her free time to be on call for the department.

“Her compassion for animals drives her to make difficult decisions and ensures that corrective action is taken to eliminate suffering of the animals in our community,” Dowd wrote.

Ackerson’s ability to handle tough situations was demonstrated right after she was hired, Dowd remembered in an interview. As an officer in training, Ackerson assisted when Animal Control was called to investigate a gruesome cat-hoarding situation.

Dozens of cats were living in a house with no electricity and no climate control. The stench repulsed the officers.

“And she just jumped in with no fear,” Dowd said. “Her comfort level is a lot higher than other officers, which is an asset.”

And so is her vast knowledge of different species, Dowd said. Ackerson again credits her background at the zoo.

Her easygoing nature comes across when talking about her assignment that starts in September. For a year, she’ll be desk-bound in the public safety office, investigating animal bites. The assignment is rotated among Animal Control staff.

“I’ll miss being out on the road, but at the same time, it’s part of the job,” Ackerson said.
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Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://capitalgazette.com

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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